2006 Shows Promise -- And More

The 2006 National League West Dodgers show improvement at every field position except second and right field as they enter a new season. And even then the Dodgers can expect more production from both of those two positions -- with second baseman and cleanup hitter Jeff Kent having more protection in the lineup and a healthy J.D. Drew starting the season.

It's hard to see how the Dodgers could improve on shortstop Cesar Izturis but they did with the more offensive Raffy Furcal who also has a better throwing arm.

With the starting lineup improved, many of the players who played full time last year have moved to the bench which also is improved. A bench of Sandy Alomar Jr., Oscar Robles, Ricky Ledee is better than the rotating handful of AAA players the Dodgers resorted to last year.

While the pitching is questioned, the facts are Brad Penny may be healthy all year (which he wasn't last year), Derek Lowe will be in his second year in the National League (switching leagues often causes a blip the first time around), Odalis Perez couldn't be as bad as he was last year, Brett Tomko goes deep into games, and the Dodgers know more about D.J. Houlton than they did a year ago.

Another starter is likely to show up until the Jan. 10 deadline of Jeff Weaver expires, but the tea leaves say if he doesn't return there will be a move within 72 hours.

The bullpen has Eric Gagne back, Yhency Brazoban without as much pressure as a year ago, Duaner Sanchez maybe used more prudently (he was overworked a year ago), and effective Kelly Wunsch back and healthy.

This year, barring injuries, any rookie from within the system would have to work wonders to break into the 25 man opening day roster. The best will be at AAA Las Vegas, which has hardly had big league prospects in any abundant number for the past several years.

GM Ned Colletti has turned over a band of seasoned -- real -- major leaguers to field manager Grady Little to bring to Vero Beach in less than six weeks.

It'll be the first time for Colletti and Little in Vero, where there is a lot of Dodgers heritage to rub off on them.

The Dodgers surely will move swiftly to fill the vacant big league coaching staff as well as the key minor league positions. Last year's big league coaching crew groused about low pay, and with big money spent retooling the players, that isn't likely to change and LA isn't exactly a reasonable place to live.

Little has a wide reputation as being a players' manager and, truth be known, the Dodgers still have a couple of players who have been problems in the clubhouse before. It's no secret that Kenny Lofton is happy when in the lineup and miserable when he isn't.

And Odalis Perez has been quick to blame his losses on the players on the field with him or the manager's decisions in the past.

One problem guy is NOT Bill Mueller. He comes to play and doesn't say much. He does talk more than Jeff Kent, but not by much. Both do their talking with bat and glove -- what a remarkable thing these days.

Even money says the Dodgers could not experience as many injuries in 2006 as they did a year ago.

The Dodgers can now be truly bipartisan with a Republican Romney joining the Gore staff person in the front office. Betcha that makes for some interesting lunch conversations.

The Dodgers front line pitching is not going to immediately conjure up images of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, but pitching is generally both thin and old these days in major league baseball. There isn't another team in the National League West that on paper looks any better than the Dodgers going into the season.

If Ned Colletti's employment interview was anything like his four week blitz retooling the team, it's hardly any wonder why owner Frank McCourt made his decision, not needing much input from advisor Tommy Lasorda (who favored Jim Fregosi before the interviews).

McCourt can not help but notice the positive vibes about Grady Little from on the field players -- something not at the same level a year ago.

The Colletti-Little combo had the result of getting a bigger budget to work with than everybody was speculating about even three weeks earlier. Colletti told everybody he had the go-a-head to spend and he was being honest to a 'T'.

The McCourts have made some mistakes when they landed in LA and the first two years have been a bumpy road. But to be fair, they stopped the bleeding and have taken giant (no pun intended) steps forward.

There's a great country music song titled "Making the Best of a Bad Situation." Frank McCourt has done even better than that.

One of the hidden blessings is there is no reason to rush any of the better minor leaguers ahead of their time. Rushing kids too fast can actually retard progress as in the case of Edwin Jackson. Jonathan Broxton had mixed results when he was up briefly last year, but you don't give up on a kid who throws 98.

The Dodgers enter the new season with more good things going on since the early win streak the Dodgers started with last season. The Dodgers lack of enough depth was exposed before summer began and Dodgers fans had to suffer through a long summer and a horrible fall. Let's go 2006!